Jon Benfield: Know The Word “Deadline”

First Radio Job: I actually started as a student here at Radford University. I worked my way up to the Student Operations Manager, which is a paid position with a scholarship associated with it.

Current Job: Operations Manager, WVRU-FM, Radford University, Radford, VA

Your school? Radford University is also my alma mater.

Typical work day: I get here at 7:30a. I make sure everything gets on the air. Content comes in through many formats: FTP, CD, Content Depot. I also supervise the students and help them with their programs, voice tracking and their individual jobs. I have office hours for the students. There are 9 hours of voice tracks a day that I check, to make sure the students are doing perfect work. I handle daily emergencies, from computers to satellite issues. I’m on call 24/7. I monitor the station whenever I’m awake, either on-air or via the stream.

What are you reading? I always read the Virginia Association of Broadcasters newsletter.

Best vacation you ever had: I like going to the Outer Banks of NC. Kayaking, sitting on the beach, fishing, eating seafood … that’s my ultimate vacation.

Favorite restaurant: The Chicken Bus. It’s a big red school bus that’s also a chicken restaurant. It’s a food truck.

Favorite beverage: Tea, not too sweet.

Website: www.wvru.org

Contact Info: jbenfield@radford.edu, (540) 831-6059

“It’s a challenge to keep everything in order when you have a bunch of 19-year olds….”

How did you find the station on campus? I was a communications major, focusing on media studies and electronic production, and one of professors suggested I join the staff at the station. I knew I wanted to do something with electronics or video. I’m not the greatest at voice work; I’d much rather be behind the scenes. But my professor encouraged me to get on the air, and I got comfortable announcing. The music is what drew me to radio, though.

How does your station work? We have two on staff. Ashlee Claud is the GM, and I’m the OM. We have 10 work study students and 10 volunteer students that do all of the jobs. Students are the MD, remote engineer, web specialist, PR, everything.

Jon BenfieldWhat’s in your broadcast day? We’re a PRI affiliate. We are live 9 hours a day. We carry the BBC overnight for 8 hours.

Sales? Ashlee handles the underwriting.

Do the students get credit? No, we’re a professional organization on campus. We don’t have organized classes, but I teach a workshop on the history or radio, how to be a broadcaster and how to use our equipment.

Are you on-air now? No, I do liners or tags occasionally, but our students are the voices of the radio station.

How much music do you broadcast? 12 hours of music each day during the week, with a 2 hour talk block in drive-time. On the weekends, we have mostly music. We also have 2, 2-hour talk shows on the weekends.

All hosted by students? Yes. We have a show at night called Extensions, and two Jazz shows Jazz Café and Twilight Jazz, and those are student-run. Other shows are syndicated, mainly from PRI and American Public Media

Who have your radio heroes been? My professors had a great influence on me. Joe Flickinger was my media professor. Ted McKosky was my audio production professor. Dr. Richard Warringham, now retired, was the VP of the South African broadcasting company before he immigrated to the US and became a professor here.

Small Market StoriesHow do you measure your station’s success in your community? A lot of people enjoy our public radio programming; we get a lot of compliments on that. Our radius is about 60 miles from our tower. We broadcast not just to Radford, but to the entire New River Valley in western Virginia. We’re on the web with streaming, so our alumni listen, as do the parents of our students. We have many ways to reach beyond the University.

What are you doing on the tech side? We’ve gone through 5 major upgrades since I got here. Originally, we were taking satellite feeds, but now we’re using Content Depot. We’ve just switched from analog to digital boards. We were running reel to reel and cassettes when I first got here.

It’s a challenge to keep everything in order when you have a bunch of 19-year olds tearing everything up. One of my biggest things is security. I like to have the functionality of modern equipment, but that can be a danger with 19-year olds running around. It’s a challenge to balance the teaching with trying to keep them out of trouble.

How many of your students are new to the station each year? Sometimes, none. This past year, we got 8 new students. Some advanced positions have to be covered by upper classmen that have been here for a couple of years. We’ve had trouble with the OM and MD positions. If people do them for 4 years, they get more complacent. If students only have a couple of years to do those jobs, they tend to be more professional and dedicated.

Tell me about one of your success stories. We had a gentleman here 10 years ago, Adam Harris. He was a farm boy from West Virginia that had never touched a radio in his life. Took him in, and he eventually became our OM. After he left Radford, he then got a job with West Virginia Public Radio as an intern. Today, he’s the Executive Producer of Mountain Stage, one of the biggest folk radio programs on the air.

We’ve had several graduates go to our local commercial station, which is owned by Cumulus. Others have gone on to Roanoke, Maryland, North Carolina. Many of our graduates have careers in radio; some are on-air, some are in management.

HD? We have the capability, but we’re not in HD. We’re waiting on funding and for HD radio to catch on. I literally know of no one who owns one outside of their vehicle.

Streaming? We are bound by the University to stream with Real Player, using Real Producer Server. That’s what we’re stuck with, 64K. For the Mac people, I’m using what’s called UStream.com, a free streaming service. We want to get on to the NPR service, but they don’t support Real Player, so I’m waiting for a new server or permission from the University to go in a different direction.

Benfield - WVRUWebsite revenue? Is that part of your financial structure? On-air drives underwriting. Our stream is the same as our on-air signal.

Social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…? We have a Facebook page that we promote. The students have a website that they keep up on their own.

Who administers the Facebook site? It’s an open group; anyone can add comments.

What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? I’m in three different bands that play around. I play guitar, keyboards, mandolin, drums … whatever you’ve got. Bluegrass, country, gospel, blues … southwestern Virginia style music. A little rock here and there, but not much.

What kind of music do you like? It’s easier to say what I don’t like. I like country, bluegrass, classical, jazz, progressive rock, Hawaiian music, European, folk. I really don’t like commercial pop. I’m not into Top 40. We’re AAA here, so I have a lot of overlap with that.

What do you tell a student who wants to get into the radio business? It’s a growing field; it’s very competitive. I tell them to pay attention: it’s a detailed field that is changing a lot.

I got a wake-up call a couple of years ago when none of my students knew how to operate a CD player. They didn’t even own one. It’s a challenge keeping up with what they know … they’re all hard-wired into Windows when they come to school now. It’s a challenge teaching the history of radio and applying it to today’s market.

The main thing is that they have to know the word “deadline.”

What do you like about working about Radford? It’s a small college. I really like working with the students and seeing them grow. They come in with green hair and their clothes don’t match … and when they leave, they’re wearing suits and ties and are young men and women.

Smarts Broadcast System

Radford University teaches their students to broadcast using the Skylla automation system. Jon tells me he’s only had to re-boot the system twice since 2006!

30 Years

About Henry Mowry

Henry grew up listening to the World's Happiest Broadcasters on WHB/Kansas City. He found his way to Los Angeles, where he did radio promotions for Six Flags Magic Mountain. From there, he had a 22-year run with Radio & Records, doing everything from national radio buys to regional night club promotions to eventually becoming Director of Sales for R&R. After a couple of years working with Radio-Info.com, he became Director of Marketing for Smarts Broadcast Systems.
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